Gavin Whitehead // Dec. 17, 2019

Gavin Whitehead, “She Looks as if She’s Seen a Ghost”

Tue. Dec. 17, 2019, 220 York Street room 002 (note the change in location)

The final decade of the eighteenth century saw the ghoulish ascent of Gothic drama, the immense popularity of which largely owed to its show-stopping ghost scenes.  These scenes revolve around two major players: the ghost itself as well as the witness, that unhappy figure who encounters said specter.  Both feed the ghost scene’s sheer aesthetic power.

That said, not all Gothic dramatists craft scenes of this sort with the same set of priorities.  Where some show greater interest in the horrifying power of a ghost on stage, paying little attention to the figure of the witness, others prefer to explore that character’s emotional and physical experience of encountering the spirit world.  A compilation of excerpts from a dissertation chapter, this talk concentrates on two plays: The Castle Spectre (1797) by Matthew Lewis (1775-11818) and Orra (1812) by Joanna Baillie (1762-1851).  While Lewis privileges ghost over witness, Baillie adopts the opposite approach.

Lewis’s ghost scene generated controversy.  According to contemporary reviews of The Castle Spectre, female spectators became so frightened they fell into “hysterics.”  This response raised questions about the dubious aesthetics and ethics of a playwright who seemingly sought to induce such violent reactions.  Clearly inspired by The Castle Spectre, Baillie nevertheless critiques Lewis’s hollow sensationalism.  When Baillie confronts the titular heroine of Orra with what she believes to be a ghost, Baillie does not do so to scare spectators out of their wits.  Embarking on a morally instructive, medico-scientific experiment of sorts, she instead holds up for scrutiny the passion of fear in its most potent form, asking the audience to contemplate its devastating effects on the human mind and to sympathize with the harm it causes Orra.

Gavin Whitehead is a scholar, educator, theater artist, and translator who earned his MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from Yale School of Drama in 2017.  A former Fulbright scholar, Gavin spent a year in Berlin studying theater after completing his undergraduate education.  He holds degrees in German and Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated with Highest Honors in 2012.

Kathryn Lofton // Dec. 10, 2019

Kathryn Lofton, “Gospel Minstrelsy in Popular Music: The Case of Bob Dylan”

Tue. Dec. 10, 2019, 2-3pm. 220 York Street, room 100.

 

Kathryn Lofton is professor of religious studies, American studies, history, and divinity at Yale University. A historian of religions, she is the author of two books, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011) and Consuming Religion (2017), and one co-edited (with Laurie Maffly-Kipp) collection, Women’s Work. An Anthology of African-American Women’s Historical Writings (2010).

Joseph Roach // Dec. 3, 2019

”The Temptations of Goodness:  Brecht’s Enlightenment“
Joseph Roach, Dec. 3, 2019. 220 York Street, room 100
What happened to drama in the supposed “broad spectrum” of performance studies?  What happened to history?
Addressing these urgent questions to all the participants in PSWG,  “Brecht’s Enlightenment” refers first to the playwright’s fascination with eighteenth-century dramatists (including John Gay, George Farquhar, Denis Diderot, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “the world’s first officially appointed dramaturg”) and second to the underappreciated role of their theater in his formulation of the key concepts of estrangement and social gesture.  In The Caucasian Chalk Circle Brecht deploys these techniques to challenge his audiences to face the sacrificial struggle toward a truly enlightened social contract, against all the odds and despite all the costs:  “Terrible is the temptation to do good,” as “The Singer,” Brecht’s narrator, puts it, speaking to us today even more heart-piercingly now than at the play’s premiere seventy years ago.
Joseph Roach, founder of the Performance Studies Working Group in 2003, is Sterling Professor of Theater and Professor of English, Emeritus, at Yale University.

Katherine Profeta // Nov. 12, 2019

The Promise of Common Creation in Improv Comedy and Contact Improv

Katherine Profeta, Nov. 12 2019 2- 3 pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.

My new research explores two forms of improvisational performer training and performance, and Improv Comedy and Contact Improvisation, which emerged in the USA in the second half of the 20th century.  Both live on today, partially assimilated into institutional training structures, but still sometimes serving as alternatives to more formal pathways of study and creative production.  Thinking across dance and theater can better illuminate each practice, for instance clarifying how they arose from a shared cultural moment, during which the ideals of improvisation and collective creation swept across many disciplines.  I assign much credit for that larger moment to Africanist approaches to musical improvisation, and particularly the popular awareness of 1940s bebop which grew in the 50s and 60s. I also find common roots in progressive theories of education, which date back to the 19th century but similarly expanded in popularity as the 20th century went on. Both Contact Improvisation and Improv Comedy boast an exciting rhetoric of inclusion, according to which the creative act is decentralized, and performances are generated as the common property of all bodies present. Yet these techniques must also reckon with a less pleasant reality that the rhetoric of inclusion cannot obscure: open improvisation within a collective does not always counter patterns of socially ingrained bias, and in fact can amplify them instead.

Katherine Profeta is a NYC dramaturg who has worked with choreographer/visual artist Ralph Lemon since 1997. Other collaborators over the years, both recent and long-past, include Alexandra Beller, Nora Chipaumire, Karin Coonrod, Annie Dorsen, Julie Taymor, David Thomson, Ni’Ja Whitson, and Theater for a New Audience. She is also a founding member and frequent choreographer with the New York City theater company Elevator Repair Service, lending her hand to the majority of its productions since 1991. Profeta holds an MFA and DFA in dramaturgy from the Yale School of Drama, where she is currently a Professor in the Practice of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism. Previously she taught in the theater departments of Barnard and Queens College, CUNY.  Her first book, Dramaturgy in Motion, came out in 2015 from University of Wisconsin Press. Other writing has been seen in Performing Arts Journal, Theater magazine, Movement Research Performance Journal, TCG’s Production Notebooks, and MoMA’s Modern Dance series. She was proud to be a dramaturg last year with the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Initiative.

Elise Morrison // Nov. 5, 2019

Postdramatic Stress: Performance in the Aftermath of War

Elise Morrison, Nov. 5, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.

 

Post-dramatic performance in the aftermath of war describes performances whose practitioners and audiences have prior knowledge of the war(s) that have come before, are versed in the dramaturgies and narratives employed in the preparation and enactment of war, and have chosen deliberately to step beyond those habitual expressive structures into imaginative and embodied new vocabularies of peace. Centered on research conducted on a recent trip to Hiroshima and Okinawa, two communities that experienced such severe devastation in WWII that civic life has been defined by the aftermath for the 75 years since, Morrison discusses examples of artist-activists who submit martial interfaces and received narratives of war to “post-dramatic stress,” utilizing interactivity and participatory world making within the space of a performance as a means of facilitating “performative ethics” and “moral imagination” for local and international communities.

Elise Morrison is an Assistant Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Yale, where she teaches courses such as Feminist Theater, Theater History, Embodied Communication, and Digital Media in Performance. Her book, Discipline and Desire: Surveillance Technologies in Performance was published by University of Michigan Press in 2016. In 2015 Morrison edited a special issue on “Surveillance Technologies in Performance” for the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media (Routledge, 11.2) and has published on this topic in the International Journal of Performance Art and Digital Media (IJPADM), Theater Magazine, and TDR. She is an associate editor for IJPADM and a consortium editor for TDR.

Steve Luber // Oct. 22, 2019

FPS: First-Person Spectator
Steve Luber, Oct. 22, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
Much has been made of the cross-pollination between video games and performance, including categories of analysis such as interactivity in performance, narrative and spectatorial dynamism. Given the cultural and economic juggernaut that gaming has become internationally, it is no surprise that theatre and performance begin to not only examine, but take on gaming phenomena. I will focus on repurposing the effects of remediation as older forms remediate newer forms remediate older forms.
Steve Luber is Associate Director of the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College. His current book project is entitled Last Gasp: The Ends of Multimedia Performance.

Charles O’Malley // Oct. 15, 2019

A Specific Anarchy: The Cockettes, Genderfuck, and the Beginning of the 1970s

Charles O’Malley, Oct. 15, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.

This talk comes from Charles O’Malley’s current project, a critical history of the genderfuck performance collective the Cockettes, a group of mostly queer artists working in San Francisco from 1969-1972. Situated between the rise of the New Left and the opening of the queer liberation movement, the Cockettes worked to blur the line between performance and the everyday, all while constantly needling at definitions of gender and asking which walls needed to come down. Drawn from interviews and performance detritus left by members of the group, this talk analyzes the use of “genderfuck” as a tool and considers the group’s legacy.

Charles O’Malley is a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Drama; his dissertation focuses on queer radicalism in 1970s San Francisco. At Yale, he co-convenes the Performance Studies Working Group and is the Artistic Fellow at Yale Repertory Theatre. His writing has appeared in the New Republic, Lambda Literary, Indiewire, and in the journal QED. He has taught at Yale College and Connecticut College.

April 19, 2016: Claire Solomon, Michael Garber, Katherine Hollander, Debra Caplan, and Alisa Sniderman

Collaborative Scholarship

What Can Theater Scholarship Learn from Theater? Methodology and a Collaborative Turn

In spite of seismic shifts in how scholars conduct and conceive of their research in the digital age, humanists still tend to research in isolation, publish single-author articles in journals, and rarely collaborate on peer-reviewed publications. For theater scholars, there is thus a massive disjuncture between how we produce our scholarship and how the works we study are created. Theater studies considers the cultural, historical, and literary dimensions of events that are intensely collaborative by definition; yet we rarely discuss or reenact this collective dimension in our scholarly writing. At the same time, collaborative forms and strategies are frequent topics of conversation among theater artists, since collaborative currents, and the obstacles that get in their way, are crucial elements of the production process. While there may not always be a relationship between methods and objects of study, we believe that collaboration is important both as a topic for theater scholarship and also in the methodologies we employ. The Working Group for the Study of Collaboration in Theater is committed to bridging the gap between theatrical practices and scholarly perceptions by theorizing scholarly collaboration. In this informal round table, we discuss our process and preliminary findings.

Michael G. Garber, PhD in Theatre, is an interdisciplinary teacher, historian, theorist, critic, and artist in drama, dance, music, film, and media. His book-in-progress is about the complex collective authorship of early twentieth-century American Broadway songs.

Debra Caplan is Assistant Professor of Theater at Baruch College, City University of New York. Her research focuses on Yiddish theater and global artistic networks, and her work has appeared in Theatre SurveyTheatre JournalModern DramaNew England Theatre Journal, and Comparative Drama.

Katherine Hollander holds a PhD in modern European history from Boston University. Her work focuses on collaborative practices among a small group of German-speaking theater professionals in the 1930. Also a poet and librettist, she teaches at Simmons College.

Alisa Sniderman is Assistant Professor / Faculty Fellow in Drama at NYU Tisch. Her research centers on the intersection of theatre studies and economics, and her work has appeared in Modern Drama and Theatre Journal.

Claire Solomon is associate professor of Hispanic studies and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. Her book Fictions of the Bad Life: The Naturalist Prostitute and Her Avatars in Latin American Literature 1880-2010 explores how the literary prostitute of the late nineteenth century incarnated racial, ethnic, and sexual tensions in tropes that have persisted into the twenty-first century. Her current research focuses on how the popular and the avant-garde overlap in “minoritarian” theater of the 1920s-40s in North and South America.

April 12, 2016: Vivian Huang

Inscrutability, Hospitality, and the Parasitic Performance of Laurel Nakadate

Notorious for staging scenarios that maximize awkwardness, Laurel Nakadate might be thought of as a contemporary artist who sculpts loneliness and discomfort as her materials of choice. As she once stated in an interview, Nakadate has a penchant for putting herself in places she does not belong, with people she seemingly does not belong with. The artist’s costars and subjects predominantly fall into one of two groups: the first, people whom one critic describes as “beer-bellied, awkward loners who seem remarkable mainly for how unremarkable they are,” and the second, pretty and bored teenage girls in domestic and rural spaces. Whether Laurel is accompanied or alone, however, the challenge and urge to belong remain recurrent themes in her work. While critics have described some of her co-stars as being pathetic and the activities practiced in her videos as exploitative, Nakadate has insisted that her work is optimistic and collaborative.

This talk will focus on Nakadate’s three-channel video installation Oops! (2000) in order to discuss the relationship among Asian/American femininity, inscrutability, and hospitality in her filmed encounters dancing alongside male strangers to Britney Spears’s 2000 smash hit. I will turn to writings on hospitality and the parasite by Jacques Derrida and Michel Serres to ask: if Orientalist discourse produces and eroticizes an affinity among Asianness, femininity, inscrutability, and hospitality, then can attunements to hospitality and inscrutability perform Asian femininity otherwise? How and when is inscrutability a useful aesthetic mode for minoritarian subjects, and can performances of inscrutability enact ethical modes of being?

Vivian L. Huang is currently the Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow in Comparative Literature and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Williams College. She completed her doctoral work in performance studies at New York University and is working on her book manuscript entitled Some Island Unknown to the Rest of the World: Inscrutability and Asian American Performance. Huang’s writing has appeared in the Journal of Asian American Studies and Criticism: A Journal for Literature and the Arts.

Nakadate-oops-Web

April 5, 2016: Sarah Piazza

Irreverent Calypsos in Derek Walcott’s The Joker of Seville

people-1-2In his 1972 cultural manifesto The Trinidad Carnival:  Mandate for a National Theatre, playwright, actor, and theater historian Errol Hill states, “the carnival illustrates vividly that speech, song, dance, and music should be inseparable components in the Trinidad and Tobago theatre” (Hill 116).  Nobel prize-winning playwright and poet Derek Walcott, a native of Saint Lucía who has dedicated his artistic career to theater in Trinidad, professes a much more ambivalent attitude toward incorporating carnival and folk arts into theater.  In his essay “What the Twilight Says,” Walcott accuses the state of debasing and commercializing Trinidad’s music, dance, and carnival rituals.

Nevertheless, in his musical The Joker of Seville, first performed by the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1974, Walcott includes an abundance of calypso—a Trinidadian song genre.  The Joker constitutes a creative rewriting of Tirso de Molina’s Spanish Golden Age classic, El burlador de Sevilla, first performed circa 1640.  Walcott’s inclusion of song distinguishes his Caribbean transformation from de Molina’s original, which only incorporates several songs sung off-stage to communicate moral messages.  Indeed, when the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned Walcott to write and direct an adaptation of de Molina’s famous play in 1973, Walcott stipulated that he would write and produce a play for Caribbean actors and audience members.   An important part of Walcott’s Trinidadian setting is calypso song.

More than simply adding a touch of local color, the calypsos, I argue, comprise an important mode of expression within the dramatic action of The Joker of Seville.  The songs’ lyrics showcase Walcott’s creation of a distinctly Trinidadian dramatic language that constantly mixes cultural registers and weaves West Indian phrases and syntax into so-called standard diction.  In The Joker of Seville, song, and specifically the calypso, enables characters—including the most disenfranchised—to deliver social critique, express censored desires, and threaten hierarchies.  In short, the calypsos challenge vestiges of colonialism rooted in societal norms, especially those governing sexuality.  The sung interludes, separated by speech only through italics and a parenthetical direction–(sings), create dramatic spaces in which irreverence and ambiguity flourish.  The way that Walcott integrates song throughout both acts of The Joker of Seville supports Errol Hill’s advocacy of organically including music, song, and dance in Trinidadian theater.

Sarah Piazza, a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Yale, is excited to have handed in her thesis:  Performing the Novel and Reading the Romantic Song:  Popular Music and Metafiction in Tres tristes tigresSirena selena vestida de penaLa importancia de llamarse Daniel SantosLe cahier de romances, and Cien botellas en una pared.  In it, she analyzes how references to popular musical genres heighten the novels’ metaliterary abilities to reflect on creative processes, including musical performance and writing.  While her thesis focuses on contemporary novels from the Hispanic Caribbean, she is broadly interested in Latin American literature that creates connections between art forms.  Work related to her thesis has appeared in Latin American Theatre Review and in the forthcoming issues of Retorno and MESTER.  She is currently a teaching assistant for Professor Joe Roach in his undergraduate course, Survey of Theater Studies.  Her PSWG presentation grows out of the performance project that she is working on with her creative Theater Studies students!